Friday, 20 February 2015
The passing of actor Alan Howard brings to mind a rare film that most obituarists will struggle to recall. I never saw Howard on the stage, (I never see people on the stage much), where I believe him to have been magnificent, but John Madden's film for the BBC is something else. Filmed in the summer of 1984 Poppyland was transmitted only once to my knowledge, in January 1985. Howard played Clement Scott, the poet and Daily Telegraph drama critic who visited the Norfolk coast around Cromer in 1883. His subsequent pieces for the papers brought the crowds thronging to Cromer, the countryside being dubbed 'Poppyland' by the Great Eastern Railway Company.
At 90 minutes long, this is a proper film, one that transcends the medium it was made for. Apart from Howard, the narrative is helped along by Scott's friends turning up at the mill house that is the centrepiece of the film, played with much Victorian vigour by John Shrapnel, Jonathan Hyde, John McEnery and the delightful Phoebe Nicholls as the miller's daughter Louie Jermy. Films made by the BBC around this time tend to get forgotten (or worse) unless the archives are trawled through by the British Film Institute who have done a marvellous job in resurrecting the early work of Ken Russell and the Christmas M.R.James stories for DVD. I did in fact record Poppyland on a VHS tape, which although still in my possession is missing the opening couple of minutes. I sincerely hope the BFI will find something more substantial so that we can all enjoy the film again.